McKellen on X-Men, Magneto Prequel

This month, actor Ian McKellen will be appearing in two of the biggest blockbusters of the year, “The Da Vinci Code” and X-Men: The Last Stand.’s Superhero Hype! had a chance to sit down with the prolific British actor to talk to him about returning as the master of magnetism, Magneto, for the third chapter of the X-franchise, as well as the proposed prequel for the character.

CS/SHH: Was Bryan Singer originally a major influence for taking on the X-Men movies?

Ian McKellen: He had known about X-Men no more than I, until a friend showed him and introduced him to X-Men. He got really excited about the idea of the story. So we were all not alarmed but interested in what new direction Brett Ratner’s arrival would take the film. There was no worry because Brett was so in love with the first two films that he wanted to make a third that was looked at as if it was directed by Bryan Singer, his own words. We’ll see whether or not he’s achieved that or not. I think the plot is more interesting than the previous two so it’s fair to be at least as excited and Magneto gets to do an awful lot in this film which he didn’t in the second so I’m very happy about it. It’s not going to be a change of direction. It’s not like Tim Burton suddenly coming in and doing his stuff. Brett Ratner is basically doing what Bryan did.

CS/SHH: But Bryan ended up not doing this latest movie, so was it hard switching directors and is the director that important to you?

McKellen: Yes, it always is with me. It’s never just the part; it’s who is going to direct it and how well is the part written and all sorts of things. I had to take this on trust, because I didn’t know Brett and I didn’t know much of his work either. I was pretty well committed to doing the film, and he arrived very late in the day, eight weeks before we starting shooting. It was a very, very difficult job, and I felt quite sorry for him. You need eight months to prepare for a movie like this. I did the last bit of voicing of Magneto two days ago.

CS/SHH: Brett is known to be a rather enthusiastic director. How did that manifest itself on set?

McKellen: I’ve often said that the way of defining a good director… well, you can’t be a good director unless you can hold a good party. At a good party, you’ve specifically brought together a group of people because you’ll think they’ll get on and you’re job is to make them get on. You’re job is not to have a good time but to make sure they have a good time. You treat each of them differently. You make sure they’ve got the right drink in their hand. You say the right words of encouragement. You introduce people to them. Brett is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, but Bryan’s not very good at it. I’ve never been to a party of Bryan’s, but I dread to think what it would be like. Bryan is much more internal and self-obsessed and neurotic. That comes out in the films he makes. That’s part of what he does. Brett’s a party animal. Brett wants everyone to have a good time. If they’re enjoying themselves then so is he. That’s a very good atmosphere for a movie of this sort. There are long, long waits while things are being set up. Where the scenes aren’t that intense. You can easily get lost in the dialogue of an X-Men movie, so it’s very good to have the leader keeping everyone’s spirits and that’s what he does.

CS/SHH: There were stories of Halle Berry and Bryan Singer not getting along, so it was a happier shoot this time?

McKellen: You can’t ask me about that because I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened and I still don’t know what happened. Well, it’s just different. Who knows what it would have been like with Bryan this time because we all know what we’re doing. We’ve done it now for three films. It was new territory, but it was plain sailing really and probably would have been with Bryan, if he would’ve directed.

CS/SHH: Can you talk about the scene where Magneto is throwing cars off of the Golden Gate Bridge?

McKellen: Is that what I was doing? I never quite knew. We had the Golden Gate Bridge built in Vancouver. You didn’t have to use your imagination, because there it was, but flying through the air you have to use your imagination. We were on a bit of a road and there were lights and there was a breeze. Wind was blowing in our hair and our cloaks and it felt as if we were flying a bit. So I think they just have to tell you what it’s going to be like, and whether it looks convincing on the monitor as you’re waving your arms around.

CS/SHH: Do you have any idea what is going on with the Magneto prequel and are you surprised that they’re doing one?

McKellen: Well, I’m not surprised. That’s what the comics have been doing for years. They’ve been having prequels and sequels and changing the plot. Going back to the past would be an obvious thing to do, to have a young Magneto story.

CS/SHH: Who would you like to see play the young Magneto?

McKellen: I’ll be playing the part. [laughter] I don’t know if it’s in the press notes, but the first time that Patrick Stewart and I appear in [X-Men: The Last Stand], we appear to be 25 years younger than we are. That’s been done by a technology never used in film before, which involves no makeup, no special effects whatsoever. We just go into the studio and do the scene as is, and then they morph our faces on to photographs of ourselves 25 years ago. Lo and behold, there we are. They can take any shaped person and they can slim you down, they can build you up, they can bring out your shoulders, change the style and color of your hair. Remove every wrinkle. They removed so many wrinkles from my face, I looked so young that [X-Men director] Brett Ratner said, “You’ve got to put a few wrinkles back. It’s looking ridiculous.” It would mean that I could play myself at 25, feasibly, as long as I can keep myself lithe and sounding young. I mean, that’s the big story of this movie is once the stars realize that they don’t have to have facelifts anymore, at least as far as their work is concerned, Meryl [Streep] and I can go on playing Romeo and Juliet for the next 20 or 30 years. It’s astonishing. It’s like airbrushing, but for the moving picture.

CS/SHH: The X-Men characters have long been considered a metaphor for persecuted minorities. What kind of reaction have you received from the gay community?

McKellen: Well, less than I would have hoped actually. The demographic for the comic is young blacks, young Jews and young gays, and they respond most to the idea of mutancy. More than what most teenagers think, feel or taught that they are mutants. So when you get a story like this one where there a cure is found–a cure for being black, a cure for being gay, a cure for being a mutant–it comes right home. But actually, in the circles I move in, the gays have never heard of X-Men. I think it’s more of an American phenomenon than British and maybe younger than the crowd I mix with, but it’s not just an adventure story to a lot of people.

X-Men: The Last Stand opens on May 26, but you can also see McKellen a week earlier in Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”

Source: Heather Newgen